Also:       raj qeej      

Title: Music of Thailand--Meo Tribal Dance; performers not listed. Label: ARC. Format: CD. Catalogue#: EUCD1557. Track: 4.

Contextual Associations

The qeej (pronounced ‘geng’) is a free-reed aerophone of the Hmong (or Mong, Meo, Miao) people of northern Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand. Used in funerals and in rituals directed towards a variety of spirits, the qeej is considered a sacred instrument. Ritual texts are played on it; that is, the instrument is used as a speech-surrogate to mimic the sound patterns of sung texts. During funerals, a text is performed on the qeej that instructs the soul of the deceased about its journey to the ancestral realm (Falk, p.2). Qeej players dance in symbolically meaningful circular movements while playing in ceremonies. Hundreds of thousands of Hmong were relocated to Australia, Canada, France, the United States, and other countries after 1975 in the wake of the decades-long Indochina conflict; it is estimated that over 300,000 Hmong currently live in the United States alone. Many traditions, including the ceremonial use of the qeej, were carried along with these refugees to their new homes. Not surprisingly, changes are occurring in the use, transmission of performance knowledge, and meaning of this instrument in these relocated Hmong communities.


The qeej is a six-pipe mouthorgan each pipe of which is outfitted with a side-mounted free-reed enclosed in a common windchest. The wooden windchest (taub) and the long neck-like stem (kav) through which the airstream is delivered to it are made from two identical gouged-out pieces of mahogany joined together with several brass and braided rattan straps. The six bamboo pipes (ntiv) of varying lengths and diameters pass through holes drilled in the top and the bottom of the windchest in two three-pipe rows. Each ntiv is tubular but stopped by a wax plug or a natural node just below the windchest. Five of the ntiv have a single thin rectangular copper plate about an inch long covering a hole cut in their sides; the shortest and widest pipe has two such plates situated side-by-side covering as many holes in its wall. On each of these plates a reed (nplaim) is articulated with two long and nearly parallel cuts that meet at a point. All reeds are situated inside the windchest. Each pipe has a single small fingerhole cut into its wall an inch or two above the windchest.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

A qeej player performing in a ritual context plays while dancing. The end of the kav is placed between the player’s lips and is held approximately vertically so that the taub is about waist-high and the ntiv run roughly horizontally off to the player’s left. The taub is held between the player’s palms and the thumb and first two fingers of both hands are used to cover the fingerholes. A pipe sounds only when its fingerhole is covered and the performer is creating an airstream either by exhaling or inhaling. The four longer pipes are used for melodic play, the other two for drones and harmony. The played ‘melodies’ are actually imitative of the pitch contour of spoken texts; the Hmong language is tonal and therefore spoken texts have a melodic quality to them. A qeej player is as much a religious specialist, who knows and delivers ritually efficacious texts, as a musician, who knows how to realize those texts through the instrument. The instrument pictured here is not in playing condition so the pitches produced on it could not be determined.


While free reed mouth organs are found throughout much of East and Southeast Asia and in some places, such as China, are known to have been in use for many centuries, sources are not forthcoming in regard to the origins and history of the qeej.

Bibliographic Citations

Falk, Catherine. 2004. “Hmong Instructions to the Dead: What the Mouth Organ Qeej Says (Part One).” Asian Folklore Studies 63/1: 1-29.

Thao, Yer J. 2006. “Culture and Knowledge of the Sacred Instrument Qeej in the Mong-American Community.” Asian Folklore Studies 65/2: 249-267.

Tran Quang Hai. 1984. "Raj." NGDMI v. 3: 189-190.

Unchida, Ruriko, and Amy Catlin. 1998. "Music of Upland Minorities in Burma, Laos, and Thailand." In The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music v. 4.Southeast Asia. ed. Terry E. Miller and Sean Williams. New York: Garland Publishing, pp. 537-559.


Instrument Information


Continent: Asia

Region: Southeast Asia

Nation: Thailand

Formation: Hmong

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

412.132 aerophone--set of free reeds (lamella vibrates through a closely-fitting slot): interruptive free reeds

Design and Playing Features

Category: aerophone

Air cavity design: tubular - cylindrical with open distal end

Source and direction of airstream: player exhalation and inhalation through mouth creates airstream through instrument; bidirectional

Energy transducer that activates sound: encased free reed mounted on wall of tube

Means of modifying shape and dimensions of standing wave in air cavity: none

Overblowing utilization: not used

Pitch production: multiple pitches - multiple single-pitch tubes bundled together and activated directly by player


36.8 in. height 26 in. length of mouthpiece stem and windchest 34.2 in. length of longest pipe 18.7 in. length of shortest pipe

Primary Materials

reed - metal

Entry Author

Roger Vetter